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May 22, 2005

New Tech

We've been saving money on long distance since we switched to the new Verizon plan: $4.95 per month, plus seven cents per minute within the United States. Unfortunately, Verizon doesn't even try to maintain that rate if you call to Canada, where my Dad is currently staying. Just moving my calling destination north a hundred miles brought my per minute rate up to $0.78! That's better than ten times my base rate! What are they thinking?

So after seeing my last bill, I decided to try an experiment. I stopped by Fry's and bought a Plantronics D-SP400 USB headset. This is a combo of headphones and microphone that plugs into a USB port on your computer. Then I visited Skype and purchased 10 Euros worth of SkypeOut, a service that lets me dial ordinary phone numbers from my computer. Then I called my Dad in Canada. There were a few false starts while I got everything set up, but eventually we settled in for a long chat.

Quality is not on a par with true dedicated phone service. Sometimes I could hear my own voice echoed back to me. Sometimes my Dad reported hearing odd noises. There was a fractional second lag that led to some conversational toe-stepping. And unlike my wireless phone handset, I'm tethered to the computer for the duration of the call. But once I got used to the irregularities, I was able to settle in to natural conversation.

What did this slight compromise cost me? The per minute rate using SkypeOut amounted to $0.02. Much better than $0.78. In fact, it's even somewhat better than my regular Verizon National calling plan. At this point, I'm planning on using it for calling my Dad whenever he's in Canada, which is only a few months each year. I also plan to take the headset down to Anime Expo with me. Then I can try calling Jean using Skype, rather than use the inflated hotel phone rates (two years ago I made a call from a phone that had a credit card swipe built into the side).

One amusing bit. Jean wandered by while I was talking to my Dad, so I motioned her in to say hi. She put on the headset, and immediately became agitated. She was laughing nervously and commenting on how weird it all was. In short, talking to someone over a headset creeped her out. So I guess it's just me for now.

Anybody I know is welcome to set up a Skype rendevous computer-to-computer. They are even cheaper than SkypeOut, i.e. free...

Posted by dpwakefield at May 22, 2005 09:05 PM